How the Hero Sells the Story

The changing hero in Edge of Tomorrow
The changing hero in Edge of Tomorrow

The transformational arc of the hero is the moral and ethical backbone of many memorable stories.

Handled well, it validates the hero’s actions and helps to sell the story.

But crafting an effective transformational arc often proves difficult for new and inexperienced writers.

What exactly is it that changes in the hero? What causes the change? How does this affect the plot? These are some of the most pressing questions writers face when working with the hero’s transformational arc.

Let’s examine each question relating to change in the hero in turn.

The changing hero

1. What changes in the hero? Typically heroes are good people who have lost their way or have not found it yet. They have potential. They are eminently redeemable.

In Edge of Tomorrow, Major William Cage prefers promoting the war effort behind studio cameras rather than taking the fight to the alien enemy in the field. He is smart, determined, good at his job. But he is also a coward. His transformation is from cowardliness to courage.

2. What causes the change? Change comes when external events trigger the hero’s positive character traits.

In The Matrix Neo is obsessed with a central question: What is the Matrix? He is intelligent, strong, and inquisitive, but lacks the self-belief to implement the answers he receives. But when agent Smith threatens to wipe out all resistance and enslave humanity forever, Neo allows Trinity’s kiss to bring him back from the dead and defeat the sentient program.

3. How does this affect the plot? Character growth supports the plot by motivating and explaining the hero’s actions.

The plot arises when the hero pursues a goal but is prevented by his nemesis from achieving it. It is only when he fulfills his potential that he is able to adjust his strategy, defeat his nemesis, and achieve success. The hero’s transformation from cowardliness to courage, self-doubt to self-belief, from ignorance to knowledge, therefore, affects the quality of his actions and the direction of the plot.

Answering a series of questions, such as those posed above, then, is one way of understanding the relation between your hero’s developmental arc and the plot.

Summary

A skilful interweaving of the hero and plot is essential to the quality and success of any story.

Published by

Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

2 thoughts on “How the Hero Sells the Story”

  1. Great examples, Gerhard. I think the important thing is that a hero has to choose good over evil in order to achieve the goal, even if it means his own death, or, at least, a great sacrifice of some sort.

  2. It’s hardly ever the case that the hero has no antagonist to overcome. To free Rome from tyranny and avenge the death of his friend Maximus must defeat Commodus. In Breve heart William Wallace must avenge his wife and inspire his people to rebel against the British. Seems simple enough – Commodus and the British are pure evil and in both cases the hero sacrifice’s his life and by doing so becomes immortal. But what if there is no antagonist to over come – how do we see a change in the hero if the stakes are not life and death or the prize for freedom?

    In American Beauty Lester is a man in his forties experiencing a mid life crisis. Lester is not dying nor is anyone treating his life. His wife is not an antagonizing force because she is powerless to influence Lester in any way. Also in Charlie and the Chocolate factory : All the children are Charlie’s competition for the grand prize – but neither of them are a real threat to Charlie. What happens in both films is that when the hero is within reach of obtaining what they want most : For Lester it’s to sleep with Jane’s friend and for Charlie it’s winning a chocolate factory – they recognize that it is what is they VALUE most in life that makes them rethink their situations. Lester has the chance to sleep with Jane’s friend and claim his revenge on his cheating wife , but in the end he chooses not to use an innocent girl to get what he wants. Also Charlie wins the grand prize but chooses to stay with his family even if it means living in extreme poverty.

    In short : If we are going to like your hero we need to know what he values most in life.

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